A surreal bartending sim plays with the unspoken rituals of nightlife culture

Bartending simulator Summon the Apgrod, the latest entry in a four-part series by ceMelusine, distills the nightlife scene into the bare essential of social interactions. Stripped down to minimalist representations, your patrons are ghostly spirits who communicate solely through symbols. It’s a universal depiction of the prototypical bar scene, revealing the ritualistic routine behind our nightlife experiences.

The game is split up into two different modes. You spend a good portion of your time carrying out simple bartending duties, serving the patrons and getting into a comfortable rhythm. You have three different colors of bottled spirits to mix drinks with, each bottle containing tiny little ghost figures who oddly resemble your patrons. It reads like a play on words: the human spirits literally becoming what they drink—so to speak—as they consume the liquid spirits. 

Interestingly, there’s no timers, no penalties, no rewards for doing your job well or not (from what I can tell.) Yet, knowing that doesn’t stop you from rushing around to satisfy the patrons requesting all sorts of complicated combinations. Despite the lack of incentive to perform, an innate human desire to gratify propels you to get the drinks exactly right. Making everyone happy inspires a sense of completeness. Nothing like the reward of a job well done, right? 

an innate human desire to gratify 

Each patron reacts differently to the drink you give them, some getting chatty, others showing nonverbal content, or slopping off in a starry-eyed drunken haze. I started seeing their reactions as different types of stereotypical drunk people: the ones emitting hearts more lustful with every sip, while the ones who distort their faces are the kind to pucker their noses in real life at the mere smell of alcohol.

Though the interactions with the patrons are all procedurally generated, depicting random combinations of symbols and drunken reactions, there’s still a lot of meaning to be found in the play of Summon the Apgrod. 

While, initially, the ghostly nature of the bar-goers seems out of place, eventually I saw some truth behind the metaphor. Sometimes, bar scenes do reveal how impressionable and group-minded human beings are, like a bunch of uniform, grey ghosts shuffling around and acting the same way.

We mirror each other to reinforce a sense of togetherness and culture, doing the same dance moves, going to the same club, playing the same music, wearing the similar fashion styles and talking about the same trending topics. The dialogue symbols reveal the coded nature of those human interactions, as we rely on cultural tokens and lingo to transmit some sort of meaning to one another.

the dialogue symbols reveal the coded nature of those human interactions 

The finale, which opens up the stage up to a glitzy concert, reinforces the performative nature of nightlife culture. The performers stand in a rap battle-like face off, each reciting a procedurally generated rap-poem along to the beat. Some verses come across as meaningless rhymes, while others are poignant. But it all comes down to what each word symbolizes to you, changing with the expanding context of each stanza. Eventually, you realize that even when language is written in words instead of symbols, we still only ever manage to communicate in code.

But there’s still a comfort in it all. The symbolic (if empty) interactions and routines do give a sense of purpose or togetherness. Everyone gathering for the same reason and ritual, bars function as the modern version of a primordial watering hole. There’s a comfort in its universality and inevitability; knowing that once the liquor and stage is set, people will flock. And the dance will begin all over again.

Check out our take on the first part of ceMelusine‘s east van EP, named Oracle. You can download all four parts now for $9.99 here.